Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we wait, entombed with Jesus. The waiting has a surreal sense every year as we commemorate this day with no liturgy of its own. Within our Holy Saturday prayer, there is a depth of meaning that eludes words. So, let us turn to poetry as we daily do:
Here are two poems that may help us explore the spiritual dimensions of Holy Saturday.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Sirach gives us a beautiful eulogy for King David.
With his every deed he offered thanks to God Most High, in words of praise. With his whole being he loved his Maker and daily had his praises sung; He set singers before the altar and by their voices he made sweet melodies…
A eulogy sets a particular frame of remembrance around a person’s life. Like Sirach today, that frame tries to capture the positive accomplishments of the person who has died. We set aside any mistakes and negativity. Or we acknowledge them as Sirach has done for David by invoking God’s forgiveness:
The LORD forgave him his sins and exalted his strength forever.
To tell the truth, I’ve attended a few funerals where I wondered what the speaker might come up with in a positive regard. You know, you need more than a sentence or two for a decent eulogy! Despite my wondering, every tribute has provided an enriching lesson on the sacred beauty of a human life, and how hard most of us try — even if we make a ton of mistakes.
There are times when I leave such a life celebration thinking, “Gosh, I never realized that about him!” or “Wow, there are so many things we don’t understand about someone’s life!”
If only we could treat every living person with the same respect their eulogies inspire!
In our Gospel, we read the sad and violent story of John the Baptist’s martyrdom. It’s a passage filled with the best and the worst of the human heart. One would wonder what kind of eulogy could have eventually been crafted for the likes of Herod, Herodias, and Salome!
But for John the Baptist, Jesus had given him the perfect epitaph even before John died.
I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John;
In the verse, Jesus also reveals what it takes to earn greatest accolade in God’s eyes:
… yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John.
When Jesus spoke that verse, John had not yet died. If Jesus said anything about John after his death, the words are not recorded. All we have is this poignant response from Matthew:
Later, John’s disciples came for his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus what had happened. As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns. Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
As we pray today with the legacies of David and the Baptist, we might consider what we’d want to see engraved on our own tombstones. I’ve told my friends I’d like to see this:
She was kind.
Still working on it! 😉
What about you?
Music: Lay Me Down – in this song, two icons of country music, Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson sing their own kind of eulogy. (Lyrics below)
I raised my head and set myself In the eye of the storm, in the belly of a whale My spirit stood on solid ground I’ll be at peace when they lay me down When I was a child, I cried Until my needs were satisfied My needs have grown up, pound for pound I’ll be at peace when they lay me down When they lay me down someday My soul will rise, then fly away This old world will turn around I’ll be at peace when they lay me down This life isn’t fair, it seems It’s filled with tears and broken dreams There are no tears where I am bound And I’ll be at peace when they lay me down When they lay me down some day My soul will rise, then fly away This old world will turn around I’ll be at peace when they lay down When they lay me down some day My soul will rise and fly away This old world will turn around I’ll be at peace when they lay me down When I was a child, I cried
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we begin with a reading from the prophet Malachi, a hurler of fire and brimstone in the 4th-5th century before Christ. The reading is an interesting choice and begs the question of how it relates to this Feast when a little baby comes to be blessed in the Temple.
Ah, perhaps that’s the hinge – the Temple, both actual and symbolic.
Malachi writes at a time when the second Temple has been restored. In other words, God is about giving the people a second chance to behave according to the Covenant. But they’re not doing such a good job — especially those in charge, the priests:
A son honors his father, and a servant fears his master; If, then, I am a father, where is the honor due to me? And if I am a master, where is the fear due to me? So says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who disdain my name.
Through a series of prophetic oracles, Malachi admonishes the people to repent before it is too late because no unrepentant soul will withstand the judgement.
Handel interpreted the Malachi passage below, sung here by the prize winning countertenor, Jakob Orlinski.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye.
In the passage from Hebrews, Paul presents the perfect priest, Jesus Christ. In taking flesh, Christ’s Body becomes the new Temple of our redemption. We stand before judgement already saved by his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
In our Gospel, two aged and venerable prophets wait in the Temple for the Promised One. Their extended years of prayer already have proven them faithful. Now, Simeon’s and Anna’s long and complete fidelity is rewarded by seeing their Savior. They know Him because they have already created a place for him in the temple of their hearts. Now, they will meet their judgement in total peace. As Simeon’s prays:
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
Poetry: A Song for Simeon – T. S. Eliot
Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and The winter sun creeps by the snow hills; The stubborn season has made stand. My life is light, waiting for the death wind, Like a feather on the back of my hand. Dust in sunlight and memory in corners Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.
Grant us thy peace. I have walked many years in this city, Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor, Have taken and given honour and ease. There went never any rejected from my door. Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children When the time of sorrow is come ? They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home, Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.
Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation Grant us thy peace. Before the stations of the mountain of desolation, Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow, Now at this birth season of decease, Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word, Grant Israel’s consolation To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.
According to thy word, They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation With glory and derision, Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair. Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer, Not for me the ultimate vision. Grant me thy peace. (And a sword shall pierce thy heart, Thine also). I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me, I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me. Let thy servant depart, Having seen thy salvation.
Music: Music: Nunc Dimittis – Taizé (Latin and English text below)
Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Now dismiss your servant Domine, Domine, Lord, Lord, Secundum verbum tuum in pace. according to your word in peace Domine. Lord.
February 1, 2022 Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
You have followed the story in these daily passages. Absalom rebels, designing to usurp his father’s throne. A massive battle rises between them. David, as commander-in-chief, remains behind, but gives instructions to his generals to spare Absalom’s life. Joab ignores the command, killing Absalom in a moment of vulnerability.
David is devastated.
I think there is no more wrenching human emotion than regret. When I ministered for nearly a decade as hospice chaplain, and later in the emergency room, I saw so much regret.
People who had waited too long to say “I’m sorry”, “I forgive you”, “Let’s start over”, “Thank you for all you did for me”, “I love you”…..
Instead, these people stood at lifeless bedsides saying things like, “I should have”, “I wish…”, “If only…”
Life is complex and sometimes difficult. We get hurt, and we hurt others — sometimes so hurt that we walk away from relationship, or stay but wall ourselves off.
We might think that what is missing in such times is love. But I think it is more likely truth. In times of painful conflict, if we can hear and speak our truth to ourselves and one another, we open the path to healing.
If you want the truth, I’ll tell you the truth. Listen to the secret sound, the real sound, which is inside you.
That healing may demand adjustments, agreements, even a willingness to step apart in mutual respect. But if the changes emerge from shared truth, restoration and wholeness are possible.
David and Absalom never found that path because they were so absorbed in their own self-interests. Theirs was the perfect formula for regret – that fruitless stump that perpetually sticks in the heart.
Poetry: How Clear, How Lovely Bright – A.E. Houseman
How clear, how lovely bright, How beautiful to sight Those beams of morning play; How heaven laughs out with glee Where, like a bird set free, Up from the eastern sea Soars the delightful day. To-day I shall be strong, No more shall yield to wrong, Shall squander life no more; Days lost, I know not how, I shall retrieve them now; Now I shall keep the vow I never kept before.
Ensanguining the skies How heavily it dies Into the west away; Past touch and sight and sound Not further to be found, How hopeless under ground Falls the remorseful day
I remember a trauma surgeon leaving the hospital late one night after an unsuccessful effort to save a young boy who had been shot.
The doctor carried the loss so heavily as he walked into the night barely whispering to me, “I’m just going to go home and hug my kids.”
As we pray over David and Absalom today, let us examine our lives for the fractures that are still healable and act on them. Let us “hug” the life we have within and all around us. Regret is a lethal substitute.
When David Heard – Eric Whitaker ( The piece builds. Be patient. Lyrics below)
When David heard that Absalom was slain, he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, and thus he said;
My son, my son, O Absalom my son, would God I had died for thee!
When David heard that Absalom was slain, he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, and thus he said;
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings center on the themes of grief, honor, and mercy.
In the passage from 2 Samuel, Saul has been killed in battle. The news is brought to David by a scheming Amalekite who (later verses reveal) hopes to profit from his enterprise. He has stripped Saul’s dead body of its kingly insignia, obsequiously depositing it at David’s feet. The messenger expects David’s vengeful rejoicing and a hefty reward.
Instead David, with reverence and honor appropriate to a future king, launches a deep public mourning for Saul and Jonathan. It is a bereavement necessary to both cleanse and heal the community’s heart from all the strife leading up to it.
David seized his garments and rent them, and all the men who were with him did likewise. They mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the soldiers of the LORD of the clans of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.
2 Samuel 1:11-12
David’s lament is profound; it is”splancha”, sprung from his innards, like the anguish Jesus felt for the suffering persons he encountered, as described in our Gospel.
A callous or indifferent heart cannot comprehend such pathos. Seeing it in Jesus, even his relatives thought him insane!
Jesus came with his disciples into the house. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
Poem: David and Jonathan by Abraham Crowley, an English poet born in the City of London in 1618. He was one of the leading English poets of the 17th century.
Still to one end they both so justly drew, As courteous Doves together yok'd would do. No weight of Birth did on one side prevaile, Two Twins less even lie in Natures Scale, They mingled Fates, and both in each did share, They both were Servants, they both Princes were. If any Joy to one of them was sent; It was most his, to whom it least was meant, And fortunes malice betwixt both was crost, For striking one, it wounded th'other most. Never did Marriage such true Union find, Or mens desires with so glad violence bind; For there is still some tincture left of Sin, And still the Sex will needs be stealing in. Those joys are full of dross, and thicker farre These, without matter, clear and liquid are. Such sacred Love does he'avens bright Spirits fill, Where Love is but to Understand and Will, With swift and unseen Motions; such as We Somewhat express in heightned Charitie. O ye blest One! whose Love on earth became So pure that still in Heav'en 'tis but the same There now ye sit, and with mixt souls embrace, Gazing upon great Loves mysterious Face, And pity this base world where Friendship's made A bait for sin, or else at best a Trade.
Music: Lascia Ch’io Pianga (Let Me Weep)- Georg Frideric Handel – a single piece of beautiful music today in two version, an aria and an instrumental interpretation.
Julia Lezhneva – soprano
Stjepan Hauser – cellist
Lascia ch’io pianga la cruda sorte, e che sospiri la libertà. Il duolo infranga queste ritorte de’ miei martiri sol per pietà.
Let me weep cruel fate, and sigh for liberty.
May sorrow break these chains Of my sufferings, for pity’s sake.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our first reading offers us John’s perfect honesty and simplicity:
Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.
1 John 2:5-6
Yes, it’s that simple and that hard!
Then, in our Gospel, we meet Simeon who speaks with the holy confidence of a long and well-lived life. His lifelong dream was that he might not die before seeing the Messiah. That dream now fulfilled, Simeon intones one of the most beautiful prayers in Scripture:
Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.
Luke 2: 29-32
For as John also assures us:
Whoever says they are in the light, yet hates their brother or sister is still in the darkness. But whoever loves their brother and sister remains in the light …
1 John 2: 9-10
Let’s pray today for those who are dying, that they may know this kind of peace.
Let us pray for ourselves, that when our time comes, we too may experience this confidence.
Poetry: Nunc Dimittis – Joseph Brodsky (from Joseph Brodsky, A Part of Speech by George L. Kline (NY: Noonday, 1996) The poem is long but exceptionally beautiful I hope you can take the time to enjoy it.
When Mary first came to present the Christ Childto God in His temple, she found—of those fewwho fasted and prayed there, departing not from it—devout Simeon and the prophetess Anna.The holy man took the Babe up in his arms.The three of them, lost in the grayness of dawn,now stood like a small shifting frame that surroundedthe Child in the palpable dark of the temple.The temple enclosed them in forests of stone.Its lofty vaults stooped as though trying to cloakthe prophetess Anna, and Simeon, and Mary—to hide them from men and to hide them from Heaven.And only a chance ray of light struck the hairof that sleeping Infant, who stirred but as yetwas conscious of nothing and blew drowsy bubbles;old Simeon's arms held him like a stout cradle.It had been revealed to this upright old manthat he would not die until his eyes had seenthe Son of the Lord. And it thus came to pass. Andhe said: ‘Now, O Lord, lettest thou thy poor servant,according to thy holy word, leave in peace,for mine eyes have witnessed thine offspring: he isthy continuation and also the source ofthy Light for idolatrous tribes, and the gloryof Israel as well.' The old Simeon paused.The silence, regaining the temple's clear spaceoozed from all its corners and almost engulfed them,and only his echoing words grazed the rafters,to spin for a moment, with faint rustling sounds,high over their heads in the tall temple's vaults,akin to a bird that can soar, yet that cannotreturn to the earth, even if it should want to.A strangeness engulfed them. The silence now seemedas strange as the words of old Simeon's speech.And Mary, confused and bewildered, said nothing—so strange had his words been. He added, while turningdirectly to Mary: ‘Behold, in this Child,now close to thy breast, is concealed the great fallof many, the great elevation of others,a subject of strife and a source of dissension,and that very steel which will torture his fleshshall pierce through thine own soul as well. And that woundwill show to thee, Mary, as in a new visionwhat lies hidden, deep in the hearts of all people.’He ended and moved toward the temple's great door.Old Anna, bent down with the weight of her years,and Mary, now stooping gazed after him, silent.He moved and grew smaller, in size and in meaning,to these two frail women who stood in the gloom.As though driven on by the force of their looks,he strode through the cold empty space of the templeand moved toward the whitening blur of the doorway.The stride of his old legs was steady and firm.When Anna's voice sounded behind him, he slowedhis step for a moment. But she was not callingto him; she had started to bless God and praise Him.The door came still closer. The wind stirred his robeand fanned at his forehead; the roar of the street,exploding in life by the door of the temple,beat stubbornly into old Simeon's hearing.He went forth to die. It was not the loud dinof streets that he faced when he flung the door wide,but rather the deaf-and-dumb fields of death's kingdom.He strode through a space that was no longer solid.The rustle of time ebbed away in his ears.And Simeon's soul held the form of the Child—its feathery crown now enveloped in glory—aloft, like a torch, pressing back the black shadows,to light up the path that leads into death's realm,where never before until this present hourhad any man managed to lighten his pathway.The old man's torch glowed and the pathway grew wider.
Music: Nyne Otpushchayeshi ~Sergei Rachmaninoff (translated Nunc Dimittis, Now Let Your Servant Go). This was sung at Rachmaninoff’s funeral, at his prior request. (For musicians among you, point of interest: Nunc dimittis (Nyne otpushchayeshi), has gained notoriety for its ending in which the low basses must negotiate a descending scale that ends with a low B-flat (the third B-flat below middle C).
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 9 and its beautiful verse which is echoed in several other Psalms:
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart; I will declare all your wondrous deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, Most High.
Psalm 9: 2-3
Like so many of our readings lately, today’s point us toward a consideration of the “afterlife” or the “end times”. I know you may have had enough of such considerations, but the Church isn’t giving up quite yet!
Maccabees gives us a colorful account of the defeat, dismay and ultimate death of Antiochus IV, persecutor of the Jews. The account, like most of the Books of Maccabees, is primarily historical, not spiritual or theological. But threaded through the books, of course, is the underlying biblical orientation that God-Yahweh is present and active in all life’s circumstances.
Today’s passage has even pagan Antiochus considering how God/Fate has brought him to judgement- to “payback” time:
But I now recall the evils I did in Jerusalem, when I carried away all the vessels of gold and silver that were in it, and for no cause gave orders that the inhabitants of Judah be destroyed. I know that this is why these evils have overtaken me; and now I am dying, in bitter grief, in a foreign land.
1 Maccabees 6:11-13
In our Gospel account, some Sadducees question Jesus about marriage laws and the afterlife. Their questioning reminds me of modern songwriter Eric Clapton’s musings in his song:
Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton
Jesus doesn’t sing to the Sadducees, as far as I know. Rather, he answers them this way:
Those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.
So for us today, the questions and concerns of both Antiochus and the Sadducees might lead us to consider how we feel about the “afterlife”.
Do you ever wonder what heaven will be like? Will we see our beloveds once again? Will we see our “unbeloveds” too and what will that be like!! Do you calculate whether or not you’ll even make the cut through the Pearly Gates?
When I think about heaven these two promises of Jesus sustain, comfort and animate me. Maybe you’ll consider their power too as you pray today.
I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.
Eternal life is this, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,
And a few lilies blow.
And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
Music: Here’s a beautiful piece of music to accompany you in your “considerations”.
Nocturne No.20 in C-Sharp Minor – Frédéric Chopin, played by Joshua Bell
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 19, a prayer of awe as we see the magnificence of God’s Creation:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day pours out the word to day, and night to night imparts knowledge.
Psalm 19: 2-3
It is a steadying psalm that we might need because our scripture message is blunt (if not downright scary!). If yesterday’s sweet words from Wisdom were like “the rich colors of a vibrant Autumn or Spring day”, today’s are more like a dark, cold winter!
Basically our first reading says “Yes”- creation is magnificent, but not as magnificent as its Creator! You, learned humans, how could you have gotten stuck only half-way to that truth? How did you end up making gods from the very things that were supposed to show you the one true God?
In our Gospel, Jesus speaks even more starkly. He describes the “end times” when “one will be taken and the other left”. That reading always scared me as a child and, to be honest, still scares me a little. The popular “rapture literature” has monopolized on that fear. Nobody likes the idea of their buddy, sitting right beside them eating ice cream, suddenly disappearing, right?
And I guess Jesus actually was trying to strike a little healthy fear into his listeners too. He told them the vultures were already gathering. It’s late in the game. Get your act together.
Early Christians thought a lot about the end times. They expected them to come quickly after the Resurrection. Well, 2000 years later, our obsession may have cooled somewhat.
Nevertheless, an end will come to this life as we know it. And wouldn’t it be a shame if we had spent our precious worship on false and distracting gods like money, fame, power, luxury and self-aggrandizement?
“Wouldn’t it be a shame”, as one of our venerable Sisters once said, “to come to the end of your life and realize you had missed the whole point?”
Poetry: The Second Coming – W. B. Yeats
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 23, that familiar pastoral which, for millennia, has comforted our griefs and fears.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. You make me lie down in green pastures and lead me beside still waters. You revive my soul and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
Psalm 23: 1-3
But even for us who believe, it’s a somber day.
Because we just don’t know, do we? We believe. We hope. We trust. But we just don’t know
how life can seem to end so finally
why love’s cord seems to break, or at least to tangle
where they go when they leave us
when we will see them again
That’s why I think that, in many ways, All Souls Day is for us, the living. The act of corporate remembrance lets us hold up before one another these profound “unanswerables” while saying, “Still, I believe; I hope; I love.”
We give one another strength on All Souls Day to choose eternal life in a world that often casts only a deadly shadow.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.
Psalm 23: 4
Today, we participate in a treasured spiritual exercise for us – those who remain:
By our holy remembering:
We bless in our departed beloveds what – in life – we might have taken for granted.
We cherish their goodness and acknowledge their weaknesses.
We consider that our love and longing for them is but a pale reflection of God’s own.
We release our dear family and friends into that Immense Love.
As part of the great Communion of Saints, we release even those who have no one holding on to them. By our prayer for them, we attest our love to a heavenly family we have yet to meet.
Our dear Catherine McAuley said this, even in a time when she was faced with constant loss and bereavement:
On All Souls Day, we do think of it – and are consoled by a quiet, indescribable joy.
You spread a table before me despite anything that troubles me; you have anointed my head with oil; Indeed, my cup is running over. Surely this goodness and mercy follows us always and we will dwell in your house for ever.
Psalm 23: 5-6
Poetry: Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) – O Shepherd of Souls
O Shepherd of souls
and O, First Voice
through whom all creation was summoned,
now to you,
to you may it give pleasure and dignity
to liberate us
from our miseries and languishing.
Music: Stand in the Light – Jordan Smith
As we remember all our faithful departed today, we pray that we may all stand in the Light.